With candor and with courage
“The recent uncovering of the massive fraud perpetrated against the public health insurance system proves that corruption is pervasive,”thundered President Duterte in his fourth State of the Nation Address on July 22 this year.
“Huge amounts of medical funds were released to cover padded medical claims and imaginary treatment of ghost patients. I am grossly disappointed. The government is conned of millions of pesos which could be used to treat illnesses and possibly save the lives of many. Thus I ordered the NBI to arrest and cause the prosecution of those liable. I appointed a new PhilHealth president, whom I know is a man of integrity, a military man, a former military officer, and gave him marching orders to prioritize ridding the agency of corruption.”
The President would go on to spend the bulk of his Sona railing against corruption, with the PhilHealth mess as Exhibit No. 1 of his administration’s supposed determination to rid the country of this persistent menace that “emasculates the courage we need to sustain our moral recovery initiatives.”
The President did forget a salient point in his story about the massive fraud in PhilHealth. There was no mention of who was responsible for its “recent uncovering”— though perhaps that was understandable.
It was the Philippine Daily Inquirer that ran the exposé about the irregularities in PhilHealth, in a series of page 1 stories that presented a compelling picture of sprawling corruption and wastage of tax money in the Philippine public health system, which would eventually lead to the reforms the President would tick off as accomplishments in his annual report to the nation.
The Inquirer’s PhilHealth report was the kind of deeply researched, compellingly written long-form reportage that once again proved the value of journalism in holding government accountable and highlighting critical issues for national discussion.
Not that the snub mattered to the folks in the Inquirer newsroom. It was all in a day’s work, after all — the task of chronicling the story of the nation, its government, society and politics a daily undertaking of commitment and passion that requires no validation — except the public’s faith in the importance of the work of the press — to go on.
And in terms of impactful journalism, the PhilHealth story was of a piece with many other landmark watchdog stories the Inquirer has written through the years that have played a significant part in the churn of the nation’s governance and history — from the “unmade bed” early days of the paper’s front pages when it was at the front lines breathlessly covering the Edsa Revolution (“It’s all over; Marcos flees!” went the immortal headline to cap the people’s upheaval), to its unrelenting reportage on the corruption-wracked presidency of Joseph Estrada that would lead to his ouster, to the biggest exposé of them all, the P10-billion pork-barrel scam in the Benigno Aquino III presidency that would see three sitting senators sent to jail on plunder charges (what happened to them afterwards is another story) and the Supreme Court striking down Congress’ pork-barrel scheme as unconstitutional (the fact that it’s back, and even more lavishly, under a barely different guise is yet another story).
Today, as the Inquirer marks its 34th year, the country’s most-awarded broadsheet is ably riding the evolving times and technologies at hand by offering the public its topnotch agenda-setting journalism in the most cutting-edge ways possible — not only in the sturdy print format, but also via radio, smartphones, tablets, the internet and social media. The Inquirer’s print, radio, mobile, digital and social media platforms now collectively reach as many as 57 million people, and the Inquirer website is one of the world’s most visited online news destinations.
That’s a far cry from the paper’s improvised beginnings, and also a measure of how far it has forged ahead to become the country’s undisputed paper of record.
In December 1985, “as though to foreshadow the shape of things to come, a brief power outage marked the eve of the newspaper’s inaugural, and reports had to be written and edited by shaky candlelight, by hand and on (a few) typewriters,” recalled the anniversary editorial in 2015.
But even then, the Inquirer mission was clear: “The newspaper would be fearless in the face of repression… unflinching in its commitment to the truth,” said founder Eggie Apostol.
Or, as its very first editorial put it — an enduring commitment made on Dec. 9, 1985, in the crucible of an extraordinary time in the history of the Filipino people: to “chronicle these times with candor, and we trust, with courage.”
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